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8 November: On this day in history

What events happened on 8 November in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: November 8, 2021 at 6:05 am
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8 November 1519: Conquistador Cortés meets Moctezuma

The encounter leads to the fall of the Aztec empire


On the shores of Lake Texoco, Hernán Cortés was riding towards destiny. The date was 8 November 1519 and ahead of him lay the great city of Tenochtitlán, capital of the people now known as the Aztecs. The city was teeming with life and colour, its canals and causeways lined with crowds. Nine months after he had landed at the head of a small Spanish expedition, Cortés was about to face his greatest challenge.

As Cortés’s little army rode across the causeway towards Tenochtitlán, he could see a group of locals coming towards him. In the centre was the emperor, Moctezuma, carried on a beautiful litter. Cortés was keen to make a good impression. “I dismounted and stepped forward to embrace him, but the two lords who were with him stopped me with their hands so that I should not touch him; and they likewise all performed the ceremony of kissing the earth,” he wrote afterwards to the Spanish king, Charles V. Cortés gave the emperor a pearl and glass necklace, which he solemnly put around his neck. In return, Moctezuma gave the Spanish captain two necklaces of his own.

Historians still dispute what the two men said that day. Did Moctezuma seriously believe, for example, that Cortés was a god, come to reclaim his kingdom? What is not in doubt, though, is the Spaniards’ eagerness to emphasise that they came in peace. “There is nothing to fear,” Cortés told his interpreter. “We have wanted to see him for a long time, and now we have seen his face and heard his words. Tell him that we love him well and that our hearts are contented.”


Then they went into the city. Six days later, Moctezuma was a prisoner; seven months after that, he was dead.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries…

8 November 1520
Following a successful invasion of Sweden by Danish forces under Christian II, around 100 prominent supporters of Swedish independence were put to death in what was dubbed the Stockholm Bloodbath.
8 November 1569
The Catholic earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, who were on the point of rebelling against Elizabeth I, wrote to Pope Pius V asking him to excommunicate the queen.
8 November 1861
Under the command of Captain Charles Wilkes, the Union frigate San Jacinto intercepted the British mail packet Trent and forcibly removed two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell, who were travelling on it to Europe to press for recognition of the Confederacy. The incident caused uproar in Britain and briefly raised Confederate hopes that Britain might declare war on the Northern states. However diplomacy prevailed and the two diplomats were eventually released to continue their (ultimately unsuccessful) mission to Europe.
8 November 1948
A group of crofters known as the Seven Men of Knoydart launch a land raid in a bid to live independently from the landlord system. They stake out 65 acres of land on Lord Brocket's Knoydart estate but are defeated in the courts.
8 November 1987
Eleven people are killed when a bomb explodes at a Remembrance Day service at Enniskillen, Fermanagh.

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Dominic SandbrookHistorian and presenter

Dominic Sandbrook is historian and presenter, and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine


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